To understand the seminal Hudson River School, considered to have been the beginning of the American art movement, we have to start in Germany in the 1830s at the Düsseldorf school of painting where the aim was to produce through plein air painting a finely detailed fanciful landscape which often contained a religious or allegorical story. Here is an example by Oswald Achenbach featuring Don Quixote and Sancho Panza exemplifying the dramatic impact these artists aimed for.
There were at least 4000 painters who saw themselves as part of this movement which grew out of German Romantic painting so it’s little wonder the influence was far reaching especially in America as many prominent American artists studied at the Düsseldorf School.
Down here in Australia our own Eugene von Guérard (born Austria 1811 died 1901) studied at and painted landscapes in the tradition of the Düsseldorf school of painting. But this blog is not about him, it’s about the painters who formed the Hudson River School and learning of their contribution to American art.
The Hudson River School Art Trail has been established so that you can visit the painting sites and learn about C19th landscape artists associated with the Hudson River Art School which was founded by Thomas Cole. Let's set off and see what we can learn about these painters who sought to capture a sense of the divine.
Site 1: Cedar Grove, Catskill, New York The Thomas Cole National Historic Site which was once Thomas Cole's home. Not bad really for a young man born in Bolton (now part of Greater Manchester), Lancashire, UK.
And here is his studio.
Apparently Thomas took a steamship up the Hudson in 1825 and when arriving at Catskill hiked up into the mountains and painted the first landscapes of the area. Here is a scene from this area as Thomas Cole painted it in 1827.
You might or might not like this style but the atmospheric and mystical effects are wonderful and the skills used to achieve this are remarkable. The effect of Coles' paintings on the nascent New York art world was sensational and from it began the Hudson River School of Art.
Site 2: The Olana State Historic Site home and studio of *Frederic Edward Church. Wow, these artists certainly liked to live in grand homes.
Frederic was also privileged to oversee one of the most beautiful view in all of North America which he could view from his home. This painting is titled A Country Home.
Site 3: Catskill Creek
Catskill Creek never attracted the same interest as its tributary Kaaterskill Creek but for Thomas Cole it was his favourite subject, painting it many, many times. Here is Mill Dam on Catskill Creek painted 1841 and you can see why he was attracted to the scenery along the creek which travels for 30 miles from the Schoharie Hills to the Hudson River.
Site 4: Kaaterskill Clove The gorge in the Catskill Mountains frequented by the painters of the Hudson River School. Here is an example of this magnificent scenery by Asher Brown Durand, painted in 1850.
Site 5: Kaaterskill Falls As one of the highest waterfalls in the Eastern United States the falls are a popular tourist attraction and a major site for Hudson River School painters as it was seen as a place where a traveler could visit a primeval Eden, unsullied by progress. Beginning with Thomas Cole’s first visit to the site in 1825, the Falls became synonymous with the Hudson River School and in large part came to symbolize the American wilderness of the East.Here is a painting of the Falls by Thomas Cole.
Today the Falls are part of the North Mountain Wild Forest preserve.
The Hero Image for this Blog is A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch), New Hampshire, by Thomas Cole, 1839.
Cole became very concerned about the negative impact industrial development was having on the Catskills landscapes he so loved to paint. He was particularly concerned about the growth of the railroad by copper-hearted barbarians. To give you some idea of how popular Thomas Cole had become, he was commissioned in 1839 by wealthy banker and philanthropist Samuel Ward to produce four paintings to be known as The Voyage of Life. The price agreed upon was $5000. Unfortunately Ward died in November 1839 without seeing his commission completed in December of 1840.
Tomorrow we’ll finish our trail and answer a question I’m sure some of you have in your mind. Were there any women in the Hudson School of Art?